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Foreign Film Oscar Finalists Offer Surprises and a Cold Snap

Each year, while I struggle to keep up with the foreign film submission charts and my sisyphean effort to find screenings or screeners of the 50 to 70+ films each year, Oscar's Foreign Film Nominating Committe cuts me off at the knees in my efforts. They always axe the bulk of the submissions and narrow the field to nine just as I've begun to make headway. Each year, I struggle to understand why nine? Ten (or more) would surely be easier to take for the finalists who did not find themselves Oscar nominated the following month. They could content themselves with a 50/50 chance, and consider it a toss of the coin misfortune rather than 'Nah, we don't like you so much!' 

"Kon Tiki", Norway's most expensive movie ever, is an epic adventure about explorer Thor Heyerdal. The Weinstein Co will handle US distribution.

The finalists, a surprisingly chilly bunch whether through auteur sensibility or subject matter (Austria, Canada, Romania) or actual wintry or wet physical temperatures (Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland) are...

  • Austria, "Amour," Michael Haneke, director; REVIEWED
  • Canada, "War Witch," Kim Nguyen, director;
  • Chile, "No," Pablo Larraín, director; REVIEWED
  • Denmark, "A Royal Affair," Nikolaj Arcel, director;
  • France, "The Intouchables," Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, directors;
  • Iceland, "The Deep," Baltasar Kormákur, director;
  • Norway, "Kon-Tiki," Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, directors;
  • Romania, "Beyond the Hills," Cristian Mungiu, director; REVIEWED
  • Switzerland, "Sister," Ursula Meier, director

Oscar Season Giveth
We knew that short of a voting catastrophe, Amour -- winner of numerous scrolls, plaques, and "you're great!" knicknacks --  would be here and perhaps need only fend off France's global hit for the gold. But I'm personally most thrilled for the delightfully ugly Chilean entry No which seemed like a longer shot than it turned out to be. (I had predicted it as a finalist but I admit that that was more wishful thinking than savvy prophesy!) Voters tend to favor traditionally "beautiful" movies in this category but No purposely goes for a cruddier VHS-inspired look and that aesthetic decision turns out to be super effective in the film's seamlessly well edited mix of acted and found footage from the Chilean political upheaval. As a Scandinavian Nut (my ancestry is Danish and I speak very broken Norwegian) I'm always happy to see those countries in the mix. I haven't yet seen Kon-Tiki but A Royal Affair is a fine costume piece that starts out deceptively traditional only to reveal itself in the telling as a surprisingly resonant political drama. That said, it's modern resonance is deeply  nfortunate. Tis a pity that we still have to fight the wars that should have been won from The Enlightenment centuries ago! But no, the rich are still preying on the poor, and still using shamelessly self-serving deceit and distortion to insure that a great many normal civilians keep buying into the system that oppresses them in favor of wealthy parasites -- just check out what Boehner and the GOP are up to every day!

Oscar Season Taketh Away
I personally loved The Philippine entry Bwakaw which is no longer in the running. I knew it was a more modest effort than they usually go for but I hoped its well modulated character study about a senior citizen and his beloved dog would melt their hearts. I had also hoped to see Spain's clever Snow White riff Blancanieves in the mix in the off chance that I could find a way to propose to Macarena Garcia and/or Sergio Dorado at an Oscar function (kidding! but they are beautiful) or be able to discuss silent films at the Oscars for the second year running (not kidding!).

The most high profile omissions are surely festival noise-makers Caesar Must Die from Italy, Fill the Void from Israel, and Barbara from Germany -- all three countries are frequent Oscar fixtures. The snub for the Golden Lion winner Piéta from South Korea isn't as surprising since Oscar is weirdly resistant to Asian cinema if the names Akira Kurosawa or Ang Lee aren't prominent in the credits.

How are you feeling about the Foreign Finalists and which do you think we'll be nominated? [SEE THE UPDATED CHART

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Reader Comments (26)

It is a pity that Brazil's submission The Clown did not make the cut.

It is a beautiful, beautiful film following Fellini's cinema making. It is much better than the cliches of Untochables.

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarcelo

I'm a big fan of Sister, so I'm glad to see it here. Gorgeous movie. Maybe no movie this year makes better use of its setting.

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWill h

For those interested parties living near the NY metro area, The Deep and Kon-Ticki are both playing at Lincoln Center two weeks from tomorrow.

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

Disappointed for Barbara and Lore, but unsurprised about The Untouchables.

Sister and No were amongst my favorites this year, along the solid A Royal Affair. Those, with Amour and maybe Kon-Tiki (which I haven't seen) would make an excellent (if Eurocentric) final slate.

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmes

Not a very surprising list. A little sad that the list wasn't more diverse, but I'll relish the fact that Canada's film is about Africa. The ones I've seen are quality. I'll echo your love for No and A Royal Affair.

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

I can see that, easily, the final nominees will be Austria, Canada, Denmark, France and Norway. And the winner, for me, will be between Denmark, France and Norway.
I'm very sorry for Barbara (Germany), it is one of my favourites of this year, and deserved be part of this shortlist.

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPablo

I am shocked LORE isn't here. I hated it, but still.

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJulien Faddoul

It's official... Gael García Bernal is the king in this category. Two BP nominees and another in the shortlist. Now, he has a fourth film in consideration...

My predictions:

Alt: Canada

Right now, "Amour" is the favorite, but this is the perfect place for an underdog... Don't understimate Norway and France. Both films have Harvey behind and Norway is still Oscarless...

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterleon

I think what hurts the Philippine entries year after year are weak production values. The Philippines is such a beautiful country yet its movies are garish to look at.

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

Why haven't Brazil chosen Neighboring Sounds? It got great reviews in USA and Europe and it was in AO Scott's top 10.

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Definitely sad about Barbara not making the cut. That sucks.

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Romania and Chile are both in the running for their first nomination-that's always exciting. Otherwise, release schedules have precluded me from seeing any of these.

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

I'm rooting for "The Deep" from Iceland to get a nomination. I like the director and I've heard great things about it. Plus, I just like Iceland. :)

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

"War Witch" is one of the Best Film I've seen last year. Rich. Moving. Original & Hauting. Plus being from Montréal & considering that the director is Québécois feels me with joy!

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterstjeans

Neighboring Sounds hasn't premiered here yet so it could be in next year's list... but Brazil's committee tends to choose more "mainstream"/City of God-lite films

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaulo

Sad for CAESAR MUST DIE, glad that LORE didn't make it (and that's coming from an Australian!). I thought that SISTER was a little over-rated - it felt mostly liked yet another Dardenne-brothers-like film about people on the edge of society, only with bigger names (as big as Gillian Anderson, anyway). Which is OK, but getting a bit repetitive.

If the nominations end up including any of AMOUR, INTOUCHABLES, NO, BEYOND THE HILLS, SISTER and A ROYAL AFFAIR, then for the first time I will have seen all five nominees on the day of the announcements!

My main fear is that the old voters for this category will be scared away by the film about old people dying (AMOUR) , and go for the inferior-but-safer-feeling INTOUCHABLES.

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWellington Sludge

Wellington, I doubt that the old fogies of the FL branch are afraid of films about mortality. This is the category of depressing films. More likely, they would be turne off by Haneke's slow, dry style.

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

I'm super sad for "LORE". Not because it's Australian (although that's partly the case, true), but because it was finally a really excellent WWII movie about a child's journey. I wonder if the reversed angle (it's about nazi children rather than Jewish children) affected the reception with the jury.

Still, I adore that they chose "Sister" (which, may I note, I reviewed for The Film Experience when I saw it at MIFF a few months ago). I'm rooting for that one to get in and that "THE INTOUCHABLES" does not. Bloody hell, what do people see in that movie?

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

@Glenn Intouchables proves that bad taste knows no borders any longer. It's "Driving Miss Daisy", but with about 2 thousand more cliches. Anyone who is not offended by the "...you look like Obama" scene, is seemingly inoffendable [sic] , and I think that is a problem. And---gasp--it will most definitely win the Oscar, proving once again that the Foreign Film category is hopelessly irrelevant. I know that the Academy is always trying to fix this certain group, which is laudable, but I think, finally, that the only way to fix it is to have two categories: Best Crowd-Pleasing Foreign Film and Best Foreign Film. Thankfully such directors like Fellini, Bunuel, de Sica, Bergman, Schlöndorff, Kurosawa, Truffaut, etc., did not have to compete within such a dumbed-downed electorate. But now, autuers need some help, I think. Or maybe not. Perhaps these choices should be a reflection of the times in which we live, and the people who reflect the global mind-set. Hence, I don't know if there is a solution, or even if there is a problem looking for a solution. However, I do know a bad movie when I see one, and Intouchables indoubtably deserves an award for that.

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLevi

Clearly the people voting foreign films are a world by itself, otherwise there's no way to process the fact they left Blancanieves out. Did they forget The Artist already?

My biggest fear right now is Intouchables running over Amour once they're both nominated.

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I think that Portuguese's submission "Blood of my Blood" would deserve it, probably next year will be Portugal's big occasion, with the outsanding and acclaimed movie from the director Miguel Gomes, "Tabu".
Anyway, the academy votes will go for 2 of the 9: "Amour" (probably the winner), the remarkable Haneke's view of the movable concept of LOVE, uncomfortable, cold, and tough, deserves it, and the other will be "Intouchables", the feel-good movie of the year, full of pathos, together with réjouissance de vivre (based on a true story).

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndré

Am I the only one who admites Intouchables for avoiding easy melodrama? Seriously, if the film has really been as full of clichés as everyone says it is, we'd have a huge health scare in the last act or something that involved sitting in a hospital waiting room to see if someone was going to die (it may have even been Dris). The film is about the simple pleasures of life and how abe you can enjoy it even in the worst of situations. What's wrong with being life-affirming from time to time (must a film make the audience suffer to be "good"?)? It may not be my choice for Foreign Language Film, but I seem to like it more than most. Also, offended by the Obama comment? You'd have to offended by people saying there's no Santa Claus to be offended by that.

I think their biggest omission is Mexico, not just because it's my home country, but because their submission, After Lucia, is a film I haven't stopped thinking about since I saw it (even wrote an article about it). I see it how it's a tough sell for the Academy, but it's definitely a brilliant film that deserves recognition, even though it's not a film one enjoys.

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

"... offended by the Obama comment? You'd have to offended by people saying there's no Santa Claus to be offended by that."

LOL. Clearly I've made my point.

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLevi

Blancanieves is the most moving, original and artistical movie of the year. It clearly deserved the nomination. Do voters really see all the movies, or they are influenced by most pupular options? :( However, I´m sure the Spanish masterpiece will get all the recognition after the release date

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterÁlvaro

extremely disappointed that BWAKAW didn't make it. it's the closest The Philippines got to the shortlist and the film is a very satisfying choice as an entry. IT MELTS THE HEART. i cried a lot, but it is also abundant in appropriate humor. IT TOUCHES THE EMOTIONS.

December 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos

Im very happy that Kon - Tiki is still in the race but any movie represented by Weinstein would have been any way. Kon - Tiki is a better movie compared to the previous Max Manus effort by the same directors with great FX but still lacks the dramatic qualities you see in films like Barbara, Amour, No, Sister, Blancanieves and A Royal Affair

An Oscar nomination will be such a delight, but a win is both undeserved and not very likely

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterManuel

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